Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

I had been hesitant to read this book because it was so blatantly about Asian Americans. To be honest, I don’t know why that’s a negative. Anyway, then I saw that it had won the National Book Award, and that got me over the hump. I guess prestige matters, which is oddly appropriate.

1) “In the world of Black and White, everyone starts out as Generic Asian Man. Everyone who looks like you, anyway. Unless you’re a woman, in which case you start out as Pretty Asian Woman.”

Why are so many books suddenly using Capitalized Nouns? Is it the Trump Twitter Effect? I know in this case, they are characters in a screenplay.

2) “The apologies, the true sign – that this was not the man you once knew, a man who would never have uttered that word to his son, sorry, and in English, no less. Not because he thought himself infallible, but because of the belief that a family should never have to say sorry, or please, or thank you, for that matter, these things being redundant, being contradictory to the parent-son relationship, needing to remain unstated always, these things being the invisible fabric of what a family is.

It’s been said before, but this is the best articulation I’ve read.

3) “Older Brother was blessed, among other things, with the rare phenotype, the kind of Asian dude hair with a slight wave to it (but always in a tight fade), thick and black but with brown or even red highlights.”

Not sure about the brown or red highlights part, but yes to the slight wave.

4) “Shit. Right. You forgot to do the accent.”

You can learn more about an Asian American from his/her accent than any other trait.

5) “Working your way up the system doesn’t mean you beat the system. It strengthens it. It’s what the system depends on.”

The problem is that if you jump out of the system, you’re just in another system.

6) “He does not like hamburgers at first, but learns to ask for no mayonnaise or ketchup and eats the meat separately from the bun, lettuce, and tomato.”

The only good part of the hamburger is the meat, and that’s only if the meat is good.

7) “To pray to the minor god, you close your eyes and you imagine a home for you and your family, with four bedrooms and two and a half baths, and you open your eyes and see yourself in southern California, and then you are.”


8) “There are a few years when you make almost all of your important memories. And then you spend the next few decades reliving them.”

I’m trying to make sure I’m still in the memory-generating years.

9) “Don’t you need to take some responsibility for yourself? For the categories you put us in? Black and White? I mean, come on? Do you think you’re the only one who’s trapped?”

I’m glad the book addresses the hypocrisy, but this last section reads too woke for me.

10) “Your oppression is second class.”

“Model minority” is just a copout.

This is the first book I’ve ever finished on the same day. It’s kind of cheating because half of it was written as a screenplay with a ton of whitespace, so in reality the book is much shorter than the nominal page count. I’m surprised that the headline reviews all focused on how funny the book is. I didn’t find the book funny. It’s witty and fresh, but the underlying ideas were so tragic that it’s not funny.

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